An “Admiral” Way of Running a Meeting

meeting agenda
October 24, 2017

Wasted time in meetings never occurred under the watch of Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the United States nuclear navy. Please pardon the pun, but when it came to running a meeting, Admiral Rickover ran a tight ship.

First, the admiral would find out ahead of time what people wanted to talk about, then use that information to complete the first two columns of this spreadsheet. He would appoint a timekeeper to keep the meeting on track, who would begin the meeting on time.

(I once had a workshop participant who attended Rickover’s meetings tell me, “You were in the door and in your seat on time, else you were going to get a job you didn’t want to get!”)

Then the attendees would begin to discuss “Item A” from the spreadsheet. At precisely 9:10 am, those in attendance would take a vote. As you can see, “Item A” passed. LM was assigned responsibility for that item with a deliverable deadline date of June 1st. Then the group would begin to discuss Item B.

At precisely 9:25 am, Rickover’s team members would take another vote. In this case, “Item B” was turned down. Therefore, no one was assigned responsibility for the item and there was no deliverable deadline date.

An interesting thing happened while discussing “Item C.” The group decided that they had not allowed sufficient time to discuss it adequately. Rather than the meeting going on and on (You’ve been to these meetings!), the group decided to withhold making a decision, being sure to allot enough time to discuss the topic adequately at the next meeting.

At precisely 9:40 am, the group began to discuss “Item D.” At 9:50, they took a vote. This item passed. TB was assigned responsibility with a deliverable deadline date of July 15th.

At precisely 9:50 am, the group began to discuss “Item E,” their fifth topic of the meeting. At the top of the hour, they took a vote. In a vote, “Item E” failed; therefore no one was assigned responsibility and there was no deliverable deadline date.

Rickover would then cross out the word “Agenda” at the top of the spreadsheet, making the spreadsheet the meeting’s “minutes.” He would scrawl a large “R” over the top of the sheet, thereby giving the meeting minutes his approval.

Rickover would then hand the sheet to his assistant, who would write the date, time and location of the next meeting. The assistant would make copies and distribute a copy to each attendee, so each would have a copy of what was discussed and what they were responsible for when they attended the next meeting.

With the pressure of a timed agenda, the attendees stayed more focused. The rewards were that their time was respected, and they got more done in less time.

Contributed by Ted Janusz.